Black Cake


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes


Appears in

Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad and Tobago

Sweet Hands

By Ramin Ganeshram

Published 2018

  • About

Many a culinarian has waxed prolific about the Black Cake’s rich aromatic flavors and unusual texture that is something between a plum pudding and a pound cake. Although it could technically be called a fruitcake because of the candied and dried fruits that comprise its bulk, no fruitcake ever tasted this good!

Special credit must be given here to Mrs. Irma Hannays of Woodbrook, who is noted throughout Trinidad and many other Caribbean islands for her sweet hands when it comes to making special occasion cakes. Mrs. Hannays, who turns out prodigious numbers of Black Cakes every year for friends, family, and clients, developed the fast-soaking variation offered below, a great boon to Black Cake lovers who want to have their cake and eat it too—“now for now” as we say in Trinidad.



  • 1 pound raisins
  • 1 pound currants
  • 1 pound prunes
  • ¼ pound candied mixed citrus peel
  • ½ pound candied cherries
  • 4 cups cherry brandy or cherry wine
  • 4 cups dark rum, such as Old Oak
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise pods
  • ½ vanilla bean


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon mixed essence
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon burnt sugar syrup (see Tip)

Basting Liquid

  • ¼ cup dark rum
  • ¼ cup cherry brandy
  • 2 tablespoons sherry


Prepare Fruit

Place all the fruit ingredients except the vanilla bean in a gallon jar that can be tightly sealed—preferably with a suction lid. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the vanilla seeds and bean to the jar. Mix very well and seal. Store, unrefrigerated, in a cool, dark place for at least 3 weeks or up to 1 year.

Make Cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.

Place the butter and brown sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the mixed essence and vanilla.

Using a slotted spoon, remove 5 cups of the soaked fruit from the jar (or all of the cooked fruits from the saucepan if using quick-soak method), reserving liquid. Place in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to a coarse paste. Add fruit paste to the batter and beat well.

Add the flour mixture ½ cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the burnt sugar syrup and mix well.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for 40 minutes. Then lower the heat to 250°F and bake for another 45 to 60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool for 20 minutes in the pan.

Baste Cake

Combine the rum, brandy, and sherry for basting (or if you used the quick-soak method use the reserved liquid for basting) and evenly brush the cooled cakes with this mixture. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Remove cakes from the pans. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then tinfoil. You may also place the cakes in a tightly lidded plastic container. Store in a cool, dry place for at least 3 days before eating. Black cake can be stored for up to 3 months in the refrigerator. If doing so, re-baste with the basting mixture once every 2 weeks.

Note: This is the long-soak method; see alternate quick-soak method